Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund: 30 Years of Helping Families

Home. For many, it’s a simple concept: a place of one’s own in which to house one’s family and store one’s belongings. Home also provides cherished privacy from the outside world, an opportunity to exercise one’s own decisions and experience one’s own preferences.

Life without a home proves as challenging as life within a home feels fortunate. Without security, children are taken away, jobs are lost and dignity disappears. For thirty years, the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund has helped families and individuals who are facing unexpected crises stay in their homes. And for those without homes, they help them move into one.

The perils of homelessness come in many forms. A veteran returns from Iraq with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, a family struggles with rising medical bills, an adjustable mortgage skyrockets just as the two primary wage-earners lose their jobs. In each of the above scenarios, the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund was able to help families find housing and, just as importantly, remain together in their quest for a better future. For many of us, their stories could be our own.

Meet the Elviras: In 2010, Temo Elvira was a divorced single father whose inadvertent bad credit—he’d left his name on his ex-wife’s lease—prevented him from securing an apartment in San Francisco’s hyper-competitive housing market. Additionally, the $30 cost of each credit report cut into his budget for basic necessities. Mr. Elvira’s situation not only affected his situation, but also impeded his daughter Itzel’s potential success at the prestigious Woodside International School, where she had earned a near-full scholarship.

The Elviras learned of a studio apartment in the Tenderloin while living with relatives. Even though a relation was willing to cosign the lease to work around his poor credit score, the cost of first and last month’s rent plus a deposit proved prohibitive for the Westfield San Francisco Centre food court busboy.

Enter the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, which was able to assist with the initial bulk rent payment and also help with some furniture. Secure within their new home, Temo could look for a second job and Itzel could focus on her studies like a typical teenager.

Meet the Cedillos: Teenagers Alejandra, Mariana and Veronica could hardly call their situation typical when, in 2011, they found themselves living with their parents, Roque and Xiomara Cedillo, in a garage for more than a year. Roque and Xiomara had lost their jobs in 2008 during the Great Recession. Their adjustable-rate mortgage ballooned at the same time, leading to the foreclosure of their Stockton home.

Like Temo Elvira, the Cedillos’ credit score had suffered, even after Xiomara took a new job. A benevolent apartment manager sympathized with the weak credit score, but the security deposit and last month’s rent mandated more resources than the family of five had available.

Assisted by their case manager at Sunnyvale Community Services, the Cedillos received assistance with their first month’s rent from the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund for the two-bedroom apartment. The kids were able to continue school without interruption, even taking on part-time jobs as the parents joined their daughters in decorating their new home and reveling in the separate bedrooms and bathrooms.

Meet the Samuelwizcs: The Great Recession hit many Bay Area families hard. Rolf Samuelwizc, a self-employed metal fabricator, saw his work orders decline precipitously during the housing crisis. But financial hardship was hardly his and wife Elizabeth’s primary concern. Their two children, Sara and Jake, both suffer from uncontrolled epilepsy, though medication has reduced the intensity and frequency of their seizures.

Like most parents, Rolf and Elizabeth dedicate themselves to the well-being of their children, so they were devastated when the slowdown in Rolf’s business resulted in potential eviction from their home. Their case manager at Friends in Sonoma Helping had long admired their selfless parenting. He was thrilled that the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund would assist with rent to help keep the Samuelwizc family in their home.

The economy has recovered in many areas since 2008, but the Bay Area’s homeless situation, with almost 7,000 people estimated to live on San Francisco streets alone, has not improved in kind. Veterans are statistically more susceptible to homelessness than other vocations as they often wrestle with physical disabilities, PTSD, and the daily struggles of adapting to civilian life.

Meet the Matignases: Nixon Matignas returned in 2009 from Iraq, where for two years he had patrolled Baghdad as in infantryman, with post-traumatic stress disorder, which impeded his readjustment to the Bay Area. Feeling lost and unsafe, he struggled to keep a job and maintain his marriage, having grown distant from his wife during his deployment.

A single father by 2011, his daughter returned to live with her mother full-time as he found himself burrowing into coyote dens in Golden Gate Park, eating at missions and hiding from the rain in BART stations. A mention of his dire situation led the phlebotomist drawing his blood to assist with a job application and led to his eventual position as a hospital housekeeper.

Employed, he utilized the subsidized Section 8 housing program for vets to obtain a studio apartment application in 2014. His wages would cover the monthly rent, but he did not have enough money to pay the deposit and first month’s rent or purchase any furnishings. The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund helped cover these costs. Matignas moved in and purchased a bed for his young daughter, who returned to live full-time with her father.

As detailed in the Chronicle’s “Beyond Homelessness” series, homelessness in San Francisco and its surrounding cities remains a matter of great concern. Now in its 30th year, The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund will continue to assist families to remain in their homes, or for those without, move into one. To learn how you can help, visit the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund.

This story was written by StoryStudio for SFGATE. You can find the original blog post here.